Transitions into REI Co-op membership – and the store itself

REI or Recreational Equipment, Inc., stands tall among Seattle’s premium hometown companies. Besides Starbucks coffee and Amazon’s virtual life, what’s more Pacific Northwest than a co-op that sells outdoor gear? Although the all-for-one spirit has defined the store—down to the word “co-op” blazing on the climbing wall of the South Lake Union flagship—the company has emerged from the pandemic with minimal changes.

As the anniversary sale begins, many shoppers will also be members of a co-op, which means they may have a storage credit to spend — known as REI earnings. For decades, the company’s profits have been earmarked in part for shoppers who pay a one-time membership fee; They get 10 percent off eligible purchases. Once alerted to the amount of their earnings – what many of us know as “Oh my God, I spent How much last year?

But then came the epidemic. Despite the fact that camping stoves and hiking boots were the only things we could use during the lockdowns in 2020, REI didn’t turn a profit. But the members hardly noticed; The company gave them 10 percent store credit as usual. Except this time, it can’t be turned into cold hard cash.

In March, REI announced that the dividend would be called “Cooperative Member Bonuses” permanently, ending the cash option. For regular shoppers, the change is minimal (who can wait for the cashout period anyway?). The company also raised the one-time membership fee to $30 from $20; It might be 30 times the original $1 purchase the founders asked for in the 1930s, but that’s not the city’s most outrageous inflation. A new slate of perks appeared as well, including free shipping, charitable donations, and discounts at the bike repair shop.

Things have changed for REI employees, too. Prior to the pandemic, REI’s offices in Kent were due to move into the new super headquarters in Bellevue, a personal campus complete with a blueberry swamp and garage door walls to let in fresh air. But after construction and layoffs in 2020, they sold Facebook’s crown jewel of office buildings for more than $350 million. The company has moved to scattered headquarters with multiple locations and telecommuting.

Also in March, store employees at a New York City retailer voted to form a union, and REI joined Amazon and Starbucks in facing a union question. While the outdoor giant hasn’t gone on the offensive as noticeably as its fellow companies in Seattle, REI’s website attempts to emphasize the limitations and downsides of unions while also noting “we are, at our core, a collaborative.” The language shows the fine line taken by a company that puts a “co-op” logo on everything from Nalgene bottles to sleeping bags.

Although REI saw triple-digit layoffs and no profit in the first year of the pandemic, in April it reported net income of nearly $100 million. As the anniversary sale begins at the flagship retail store, hikers and campers in Seattle will stock up on summer outdoor adventures — as they have done since 1938, when a group of Seattle hikers first ordered Austrian ice axes in bulk and created REI. Some things (almost) never change.

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